Qualifier Weekend Report

March 31, 2009

And, so, we had the 2009 San Francisco Bay Area region qualifier weekend for the North American Championships this past weekend.  Saturday morning’s tournament had 12 people – stupid 4 player tables with all of their 4 playerness. 

Round 1
Kevin (Oliver Thrace rush) -> Nick (!Nos rush) -> Ian (Ur-Shulgi Has No Presence, Tupdog version) -> Jeff Y (Sunbane, New Coke version – mummy deck)
 
Nick brought out Ox which meant I brought out nobody until I was ready for beatings, Nick’s claim of stealth bleed being easily ignored.  Kevin had some frustration at my lack of participation in the game as Jeff built up minions of the vampire and ally sort.  Nick brought out Beast and combat ensued between the two rush decks with Oliver coming out ahead.  I finally brought out Ezmerelda, Tupdog, quickly followed by Augustus.  I was given grief from Kevin for hunting with Augustus when he had 10 blood, but I was choked on Voter Caps and that was just the morally correct thing to do and Ezmerelda had 11 blood, so hunting there would have been suspicious.  Jeff put Repo Man in play and I tried to get Kevin to nuke him before he went searching for pain (for me).  After Repo did his thing next turn for a Sport Bike, this produced one of the funniest exchanges of the weekend as Kevin and I talked about how Repo was the most dangerous minion in play and that it was already too late.
 
I was able to fend off Nick enough that his tussling with Kevin was far more game affecting.  With Nick about to go under and with Jeff about to move forward with his horde of minions, I bled for three with Augustus and Reins of Powered Jeff and Nick out of the game.  Nick did not spite Kevin by choosing his 7 cap; Jeff spited me by choosing no one, giving Kevin 12 pool, taking Kevin up to 18.  That actually wasn’t so bad for me as I had Augustus and Sutekh online and about half of my deck’s combat cards in hand.  But, though I had seen Kevin’s decklist, I had forgotten he had Disarms in his deck and didn’t double dodge in an Oliver vs. Augustus throwdown and Augustus was Graverobbed.  Sutekh was punked shortly afterwards.  Being action poor, I could never get rid of the Mob Connections which screwed me and which should have been burned by someone long before it did.  Not that I was necessarily favored in the endgame, but it could have been interesting instead of a quick blowout.
 
I was learning that this version of my deck had master problems as I had as many as six in hand at one point but was loath to discard anything good except a Direct Intervention (when I had a Sudden in hand).  I was able to Barrens away Giant’s Blood, which I had been sitting on for most of the game, after Kevin used Inconnu Tutelage to get his right before Nick played it.
 
Round 2
Ian -> Ira (weenie Laibon vote) -> Steve (bleed untap) -> Kevin
 
Oh … yeah.  At least Steve was a great threat to Kevin.  On the other hand, Steve was also essentially impervious to Kevin’s deck given his draw, so Kevin didn’t just go backward.  I kept Ira under control votewise and got some bleeds through with Ezmerelda and later Sutekh due to Monastery of Shadows, but things went downhill steeply as Ira put Carlton in play and stole my Monastery, I didn’t want to or couldn’t get off votes to refill Sutekh, and Kevin kept going forward constraining my ability to operate.  The most minor stuff gave me problems, like Kevin bleeding me for one when I had four pool and a Tupdog up.  I could have blocked and not have had three actions to try to oust Ira, which would have been better than what I did do which was not block and be unable to call either Anarchist Uprising or Ancilla Empowerment in my hand.
 
Random stuff that happened included my Life Booning Kevin hoping I would gain a little bit of time to get some major damage through against Ira while Steve was still across from me only to have Kevin go forward and not oust me because Sutekh can play Spectral Divination at superior.  Steve took him out shortly after and the game timed out as I went into bloat mode and Ira built his army way too late.  In theory, I could do 11 or 14 pool damage to Ira in a turn to oust him, but I lost the ability to pass votes with Steve’s Loki’s Gift, the inability to get the edge, and with lacking the stealth to get actions through except the one turn I Pentexed Carlton.  It would have been far better for Steve and me to quickly kill our prey and Steve to win the endgame as that would have gotten both of us in the finals, but that scenario was only reasonable using out of game considerations.
 
Final
 
Didn’t play, didn’t much care, went next door for Chinese food, ate a lot to compensate for lack of food and lack of sleep.  Ira won with the only oust I believe.  I was fairly displeased at my mediocre play in this tournament.  Maybe playing a deck with a lot of decisions was not wise for the first tournament after getting less than 4 hours of sleep.
 
So, the qualifier.  Gained four players, lost Ira (qualifier rules prevented him from legally playing) to make three tables of five.  Sweet, five player tables, the way the game was meant to be played – slowly.
 
Round 1
Steve (new Cam vote) -> Jeff K (Malk94 w/ Ashur Tablets) -> Ian (Harbingers of Suck 3) -> Brad (!Ventrue vote) -> Nat (Ani/Aus)
 
This game pointed out well why I can never be a great player.  I got ousted.  I was the only one to get ousted.  I had way, way more fun than I did in either of the two games above.  Winning and fun just don’t have any correlation with me.
 
To make a long story short, who am I kidding – I’m never short, though Jeff was not remotely hurt by the results of this game, he got one of the two absolutely horrendous matchups he could have gotten.  If my deck is designed to do anything, it’s designed to survive bleed.  Except, I didn’t draw a bounce card all game; that happens when only 10% of your deck is bounce.  I survived about 70 minutes of relentless bleeding with Eyes of Argus, Carlton, Shaman, Blood Dolls, Eagle Sight blocks by Nat on at least two bleeds (one that got bounced to me).  If I didn’t have to sacrifice a vamp with two Blood Dolls and three blood to Antediluvian Awakening to survive a bit longer, I might have been able to draw into bounce and stabilize.
 
Round 2
Ian -> Steve -> Brandon (FoS bleed) -> Nick (Maris Shambling Hordes) -> Jeff Y (slightly modified version of mummy deck from first tournament)
 
*argh*  This whole table was set up horrendously for me.  Steve as my prey sucks as his deck bloats.  Brandon as my grandprey sucks because his deck just goes forward and is fairly easy to oust.  Jeff as my predator sucks because his deck doesn’t bleed for much, removing my best offense – bleed bounce.
 
I salvaged 1.5 VPs in what was a painful game.  Mostly painful for Nick who got pounded by Brandon.  Somewhat painful for Steve who thought he had Jeff dead with a Neonate Breach that I desperately tried to block only for both of us to realize that Jeff would only take 1 pool damage from it and who got ousted somehow.  Somewhat painful for Jeff who achieved a lock in the game when time was called.  Of some pain for me as I had to keep trying to figure out how to keep Brandon alive and didn’t think ousting my prey was ever feasible until it happened.
 
Round 3
Henri (Saulot) -> Nat -> Ian -> Brandon -> Kevin (Baseball Bat/Forger’s Hammer)
 
With Kevin not playing a real deck, Brandon could smash him long time.  With Nat trying to play my game [style] and my trying to play my game, we took away Brandon’s Fragment of the Book of Nod, contested his The Barrens, and Nat Eagle Sighted to keep Kevin alive which set me up for two VPs.  Nat regretted later trying to save Kevin.  The game timed out as I hung in with hardly any pool left due to having lots of defense and Nat having not so much offense.  Game win with 4 VPs meant trip to finals.
 
Finals
Andy (newMalk stealth bleed) -> Jeff K -> Jeff Y -> Brandon -> Ian
 
This was amusing in that it was four of the “South Bay” players and Kuta in the finals.  The game seemed like it would be stupid as neither Jeff Y nor Brandon were prepared to defend against the bleed monster that was Kuta.  But, Kuta’s Gilbert got Pentexed by both me and his predator and Andy repeatedly nuked Kuta’s masters with Santaleous’s special to slow him down.  Brandon was clipped by an Archon Investigation.
 
I had a great board setup in the end:  Heart of Nizchetus and Tasha on Solomon, Bowl of Convergence and J.S. on Babalawo, Zygodat, no Carlton because Jeff Y wanted Carlton more*, Tshwane, Heidelberg.  I could move through 5 cards a turn with Heart and Babalawo, which I did repeatedly at the end.  Andy almost got Kuta, but Kuta had all the Deflections he needed to weather the pivotal turn and finally took out other Jeff.  I screwed up badly by playing a Blood Doll instead of Heidelberg, which like many screwups in this game was good rather than bad as instead of taking out Andy immediately he survived another turn to put more damage on Kuta.  I ousted Andy the next turn.  Brandon brought out Ogwon to try to have enough in play to oust me but predictably got taken out right after.  The endgame was exciting as Kuta had to bleed me at 4 stealth on his first action, 3 stealth on his second action, and use Elder Impersonation (when at 3 stealth) on his third action to take me out the turn before I was going to take him out.
 
So, actually, as much of a letdown as the result was (I’d rather get annihilated than come close to winning and failing), it was a really good game, one of the best I can recall and far superior to most finals games.  As I didn’t play nearly as badly as I did in the first event and the games were rather fun, it was one of the better tournaments I recall.
 
*  I bring out Carlton.  Brandon tries to Set’s Curse him.  I block.  Jeff Y Set’s Curses him so that he can play his own Carlton, which may have cost me the game as Carlton didn’t do anything meaningful for him which pretty much just meant spending 2 pool for no effect and it kept me from having an extra defense, or it may not have mattered at all as Carlton can’t generate more than 1 intercept in my deck and I didn’t really need him while Brandon was still around.
 
And, then, there was Sunday.  Only 7 players because of the lameyiosity of the local playerbase.  … so, time to break out a joke deck.
 
Round 1
Henri (!Salubri Laibon wall) -> Ian (Best Card Quality Ever) -> Nat (Ass Black Hand) -> Ira (EuroBrujah) -> Steve (Ass vote)
 
Henri got ousted.  I attribute that to blocking me too much.  I failed to oust Nat because I didn’t cycle on Ira’s last turn.  Steve somehow got the only VP while never having any game, Reckless Agitation and a deal with Ira being kind of helpful.
 
Round 2
Kevin (Nos Prince breed/boon) -> Henri -> Eric (Pot/Pro rush) -> Ian
 
Ira figured out what deck I was playing**.  Amusement was shared between Nat, Ira, and me.  I bled Kevin like mad because I knew he was the threat and that was what I had in hand early in the game, unlike the previous game where I didn’t draw much bleed until late.  Eric couldn’t punk my dudes more than once.  Henri crushed Eric’s.  I got Henri down on pool even after he ousted Eric, but I ran out of Majestys.
 
**  On the newsgroup, someone came up with stats for the top played cards in the TWDA over some period where On the Qui Vive made the list.  I forwarded that to our list.  Kuta put together an 88 card library based on the distribution of the 14 most played cards in the game and noted that Arika has all of the disciplines.  I put together a 90 card version and, of course, played with x3 J. Oswald “Ozzy” Hyde-White, x3 Louis Fortier, x3 Anarch Convert, x3 Tupdog.  No reason not to Blood Doll and Minion Tap Tupdogs when you have eleven of the former and four of the latter.
 
Round 3
Steve -> Eric -> Ira -> Kevin -> Nat
 
Lots of trying to keep Kevin’s deck under control.  Lots of blah.  None of what happens ends up mattering, which is typical in 4-7 player tournaments.
 
Henri wins tournament.
 
Fairly unstressful weekend, quite unlike last year’s qualifier weekend where I was really tired of playing by Sunday.  Really should have more people in these tournaments, though.  Looks like next year will not see a Sunday event as people lack the interest and intestinal fortitude for 20 hours of cardflopping.
Next post:  my decks.
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d?

March 24, 2009

I received an AD&D intro set as a birthday present when I was 10.  Within a few years, I owned Stormbringer.  By the time I got out of high school, I owned every Champions product I could find.

Maybe it’s different for other people, but in my circles, arguing about RPG systems is all the rage.  This has problems with combat, that has problems with magic, and everything is broken one way or another.

I’m not going to bore people with all of the systems I’ve played and what I think of them.  There’s only one system, actually, that I want to comment upon at the moment and that’s Legend of the Five Rings’ d10 system.

Lots of gamers love the genre.  I don’t.  I’m of the belief that the L5R CCG is the coolest CCG in history (also one of the most unbalanced but that seems to be considered a feature rather than a bug).  I’m okay with the world for role-playing.  It’s got cool stuff.  It’s evocative.  It avoids some things that annoy me.  I have about as many problems with it, though.  Main problem I have is that it’s very hard for players to get into the mentality of someone in L5R’s society.  Some people don’t even try.  Others try, but it comes across as fake.  In my case, I don’t even want to embrace the society’s philosophy.

Anyway, the system.  The system is broken.  Very, very broken.  I consider the game functional from rank 1 to rank 2 (if not necessarily fair).  Sometime before rank 3, you reboot.  Others may have different opinions, but any time I see rank 3 or above in action, the mechanics just become ludicrous.  To me, that’s okay.  There’s plenty of gaming that can be done at low ranks.

It’s also fun.  Not being a powergamer, the fun isn’t in the brokenness – my main character in the living campaign for the game is in the Omoidasu School, which is about as useful as being on perpetual recess.  I just enjoy rolling dice in the game, something I can’t say for d20, White Wolf games, percentile systems, 3d6 systems, and others. 

Certainly, having openended rolls appeals to me.  I’m also a fan of Feng Shui’s dicerolling system (and prefer exploding Fortune Dice).  I would put my finger on another feature, though, that makes playing the game stand out so much from the crowd.  I enjoy extreme results with a bias towards success.  Plain old “I hit.  I miss.  I succeed.” just isn’t that interesting.  Failed die rolls in L5R feel like critical failures.  The world and system encourage extremes.  The lethality of combat makes missing potentially disastrous.  Failed social rolls can be worse.  Meanwhile, when you know you need to do something hideously difficult, rolling a bunch of tens is always a possibility.

There are those who believe balance in RPGs is impossible.  I don’t dispute that, though I believe striving for balance will always make for better games.  L5R may be particularly unbalanced.  Well, whatever.  If you can’t have everything, at least you can have fun rolling dice.


March 21 V:TES

March 22, 2009

As mentioned in part 3 of my series on a deck built around Sins of the Cauchemar, we had a playday yesterday.  Four players, four games.  It was a grind, not so much because of the four games but because of the four player tables.  I’m much more comfortable with the five player dynamic and feel rushed into acting with four.  Borrowed decks were borrowed from me, btw.

Game 1:

Cauchemar deck -> borrowed 4CL Path of Typhon deck -> anarch Conrad Adoula deck -> Madness Network SB, Malk 4/5

Early on, I was able to contain my predator but at the cost of having virtually no impact on my prey.  My grand tried rushing both directions and didn’t make a lot of progress, getting Coma-ed on one side and outmaneuvered on the other.  He could never afford a third minion.  I felt compelled to bleed a few times to get the edge and, to cycle, used Governs, so my prey did take some pool damage.  With my predator low on pool from Dragonbound and bringing out lots of vampires and my prey being low due to having no particular pool defense, the game was ready to collapse.  My prey lunged with bleeds followed by Enticement, but I Eagle Sight blocked the Enticement, and my prey was ousted by Dragonbound.  My predator considered backousting as he expected to get ousted by Dragonbound, but I convinced him to go forward and hope that his opponents would mess each other up.  I made a mistake which likely cost me the sweep, but I took out the Conrad deck in the endgame anyway.

Game 2:

borrowed 4CL Gargoyles -> !Toreador wall -> Ani/Pro bleed -> Malk deck from above

I put out Beatrice Trembley on turn one and she spent the rest of the game bleeding for 2 with monsters having -1 intercept.  I quickly amassed a solid army of Beatrice, Carlton Van Wyk, and Gangrel.  I was a little worried about my predator as he did hardly anything and wasn’t being threatened.  Gargoyles tried to survive Malks.  Might have happened if I were more aggressive, but I held back a bit to let my prey soften up other players and those other players kept getting ousted the turn before I was going to make my move.  My prey and I split 2, 2.

Game 3:

!Tor 4CL toolbox -> borrowed 4CL group 4/5 Nos w/ Dominate -> Conrad deck from above -> borrowed 4CL new Inner Circle

I need to retool my !Tor deck as it just has no ousting power whatsoever.  Even with three Palla Grande, I just get blocked, bounced, or reduced bleeding and don’t do any damage.  My prey complained about the excessive toolboxiness of his deck.  My predator didn’t realize the importance of having certain disciplines so brought out Lutz and Joseph rather than Hardestadt and only one of those two.  The Conrad deck beat people up, got his prey with Fame, then got ousted as I couldn’t push through 2 pool damage to my prey who had brought out two 10 caps, a 9 cap, and a 6 cap.  The game timed out with my prey getting 1.5, the Conrad player getting 1, and me getting .5.

Game 4:

Cloak the Unaligned -> borrowed Tzimisce toolbox Ashur Tablets -> Malk deck from above -> Settite bleed

I thought we would call it after game 3, but we decided to play one more game under the idea that we would play fast decks.  I have a joke deck built that is nothing if not fast one way or the other.  As expected, my Cloak the Unaligned deck couldn’t handle a fierce predator and I died quickly.  The wacky thing about the game was that my prey won.

Why?  Because the deck was missing some important cards for how it’s supposed to work, for one thing.  For another, he only brought out two vampires all game and still managed to do enough pool damage to take players out.  A lot of bounce helped him but also the dynamic of the game was in his favor.  Possibly, missing those cards, he was able to draw into the cards he needed for that particular game.

That’s the thing about this game – on forums, even in person, players obsess over how they build their decks when the fact of the matter is that how a deck is built just isn’t that important to winning.  In other CCGs, it’s often one of the top determinants to success.  But, as I’ve been preaching for more than five years, I just don’t see it being that important.  Managing a table is huge.  Seating can be huge.  Timing, lunging correctly, and stopping lunges are huge. 

But, deck construction?  Too many factors, too much politics to make deck construction a primary determinant of success.  A bad build might be optimal for a particular tournament.  A strong build may bring too much table hate.  Being toolboxy might be great one day and horrible the next.  And, sometimes, you just randomly get screwed by bad play on your opponents’ parts or get thrown games or tournaments you shouldn’t win.

I do believe decks for this game need to meet a minimum threshold of viability.  I’ve played decks in tournaments that didn’t and even apologized for one of them.

Speaking of tournaments, regional qualifier weekend next weekend and I need to figure out what decks I’m going to play in the three tournaments.  Look for a report next week.


Deckbuilding – Nightmare, Part III

March 22, 2009

As expected, I ended up having a V:TES playday yesterday.  Four games, but I only played the Cauchemar deck once as I had plenty of other decks to try out with this group.

I got out Carna, Goratrix, and eventually Ladislas, which is fine for this deck.  In a more competitive environment, being able to more easily bring out four or even five vampires would be important and I don’t see this build doing that.

While I ended up winning the game and had a reasonable shot at sweeping, the deck just didn’t flow very well.  Whether that was because of the draw or because of the matchups or because it isn’t more flexible, I’m not entirely sure, but if I were going to try to take this to a tournament (which I wouldn’t for reasons that have nothing to do with how good it is or could be), I would want to work on the masters and cut the number of Sins by two.  I did play two Sins at superior and another at inferior, and it’s interesting how easily they can be cycled – a little extra value.

Ruins of Ceoris performed well.  Why is this interesting?  Because I don’t think much of the card.  I see it as an okay toolup.  Though, I’m used to !Trem decks that don’t go down the dull intercept combat path which need to spend actions doing things besides tooling up, so it could just be that this much more fighty deck made better use out of it.  It was amusing to be the combat deck given my interests and reputation.  It’s been ages since I played so many Thefts in one game.

Oddly, having enough ousting power wasn’t a problem, though I did get my first oust from my grand’s Dragonbound.  Didn’t get to bring out Ponticulus.

I ran an extra Apportation and cut a Movement of the Mind as I could only find one V:TES version of MotM – I eschew Jyhad-backed cards these days, having forgotten that it hasn’t been reprinted.  I would likely cut the Sport Bike for an intercept location.  Rutor’s Hand would help with getting more actions.

In the end, though, I didn’t get the amusement factor out of the deck as I wasn’t playing with people who knew how unlikely it was to see Sins of the Cauchemar in a deck nor did I find the general play of the deck all that interesting as it was just an intercept combat deck with some toolup.  Maybe I need to play more combo decks to really be doing something different.

Still, it’s worth one more go.


Deck Stats

March 17, 2009

I was looking at my decks in V:TES’s tournament winning deck archive (TWDA, http://thelasombra.com/decks/twd.htm) to give examples in a discussion on card limits.  This got me to thinking about what are the cards I really play most.

From the six decks I have in the TWDA, here are the top quantities:

  1. Honor the Elders, x27
  2. Blood Doll, x23
  3. Majesty, x20
  4. Cloak the Gathering, x17
  5. Effective Management, x15
  6. Kine Resources Contested & Telepathic Misdirection, x14
  7. tie
  8. Blessing of the Name, x13
  9. Minion Tap, x11
  10. Bewitching Oration, x10

The first thing to note is that this data is just not very good.  Small sample size creates massive biases, which even the TWDA as a whole has an issue with, nevermind looking at only six decks played by one player mostly in one metagame.  All of the Honor the Elders are in only one of the six decks.  A different way to cut the data is to look at how many different decks a card shows up in to get a sense of breadth of use.

  1. Blood Doll, The Barrens, and Wake With Evening’s Freshness, five
  2. tie
  3. tie
  4. Effective Management, Majesty, and Storage Annex, four

This makes a lot more sense and still has some interesting features.

There are a fair number of cards that show up in three different decks.  Some of the surprises include:  how many votes appear in three decks, I suppose I’ve done reasonably well playing vote decks; Dreams of the Sphinx and Information Highway appearing in only three decks, these are among my favorite masters.

What’s really shocking, mindblowing in fact, is that Deflection only shows up in one deck, that Conditioning and Govern show up a total of zero times in my six TWDA decks.  I did have two other decks that could have been in the TWDA and one of them did play a fair amount of Dominate, but I’m not sure that deck had any Governs either.  Crazy!  Again, small sample size mocks the data.

Yet, it is interesting how well I’ve done with voting and Presence given that I don’t think of myself as being all that interested in voting.  And, the lack of more Dominate just screams out.  And, what’s with all of the Storage Annexes?  I don’t think the card is good based on math, not nearly as good as Dreams or Fragment of the Book of Nod, yet two thirds of these decks run it.  There may be some subtle, non-mathematical benefit to it that makes it better for me than it should be.

One other thing about the data that pops out is that I do better than I think with comboish decks.  The Blessing of the Name deck relied on a combo while the Honor the Elders deck played like a combo deck.

Taken together, these two features of the data suggest I should take more risks.


Camaraderie

March 15, 2009

Is camaraderie in role-playing games [RPGs] important?  My recent experiences have led me to the conclusion that it’s more important than I thought.  One would think it would be obvious that it’s important; after all, isn’t the point of playing games to have fun and isn’t enjoying other people’s company fun? 

Sure.  But, it seems that I’ve just taken it for granted, never realizing that it’s something with a tremendous level of variance.  The more I think about it, the more I realize highlights of role-playing have often come during scenes of player camaraderie.  And, that camaraderie is not a given just because the activity is a social one engaged in with friends.

I’m not much of a fan of combat in RPGs.  It’s often gratuitous and slow.  My favorite combats fall into one of two categories.  The first is when there’s a clear objective that furthers the story affected by the results of the combat.  The second is trying to survive overwhelming force.

I just played an online session of the Legend of the Five Rings [L5R] living campaign Heroes of Rokugan [HoR].  And, I realized something when I was explaining my experience to family.  Combat is the best way to form camaraderie among players.  I may have met one or more of the other players at Gen Con some year, but I can’t put names to faces even now.  This particular adventure didn’t do anything significant to bond my character to the group.  Being entirely social, mostly intrigue, the characters never needed to coalesce as a party.

Challenging combat creates dependence.  The historically common style of playing fantasy RPGs – dungeoncrawling – excels at creating a tight, cohesive party.  Individual interests are sublimated to party needs.  Individuals vs. groups in RPGs – a subject that I should expand upon in a future post.

Then, I realized that none of my recent house campaigns have seen much in the way of camaraderie.  Last year’s Gen Con saw me ramp up the amount of HoR I played, which was the likely cause of my getting to know other players from other regions in the US.  I recall specific instances from the last two Gen Cons where I felt a bond between players in HoR games.

Not to say HoR lends itself greatly to camaraderie – lots of unknown players to be thrown into a group with, players have individual goals, and little emphasis on combat.  Which, I suppose, makes it interesting that I have found it as much there as in any of the house games I’ve recently played in. 

It’s not like my house campaigns are combat poor.  The fourth edition D&D campaign was pretty much only combat.  I chalk it up to just how lethal combat in L5R is, where even a seemingly minor combat scene can eviscerate a character.  In my house games, combat is more of an inevitable “victory” measured by how many resources needed to be expended.  That allows for selfish play, whether showing off or just not having the back of another character.


What Makes A RPG Campaign Work?

March 9, 2009

What’s the secret to gaming happiness?

Being on the same page.

It doesn’t matter what game you play or how you play it if everyone is on the same page.  My most often used example is with the Babylon 5 CCG.  There were two broad categories of tournaments:  normal; social.  A social tournament had victory conditions based on who was the most fun to play with and who had the coolest deck.  Honestly, that’s stupid.  Competing to be the funnest player?  Competing to have the coolest deck (tantamount to coming up with the silliest deck because god forbid someone try to win)?  Ignoring actually playing the game to win?  Those are fine, but how does that make for a tournament?

Yet, social tournaments happened.  People did somehow manage to compete to be most fun while completely bastardizing the actual intent of the game.  I played in them.  I didn’t hate all of them.  For those groups who were all on the same page as to how they should be played, why not?  It meant getting tournament-only promos even if the tournament was a joke.

Back to RPGs.  None of my current campaigns see players with all the same style.  By styles, I’m thinking of the player types that are defined by Robin Laws, which can be found at  http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/theory/models/robinslaws.html.  I don’t see it necessary or probably even optimal to have a group with all of the same styles, though I’m sure some groups of a particular style would work just fine.  Even given differing styles, however, everyone can be on the same page.

It’s interesting, to me anyway, how often two of my groups aren’t on the same page.  In order for a party of characters to cooperate, a group of players needs to cooperate.  Nevermind that the players and GM need to be on the same page.

One of my groups has, in my view, a powergamer, a buttkicker, a tactician/casual gamer*, someone who is hard to define, and me – a storyteller.  My recollection is that Robin had other player types in his book, which a friend has and I’ve read as I thought I was about half storyteller and half something else I can’t find at that link, but whatever.

*  This may seem a bit odd, but take someone with a strong wargaming background and have him be along for the ride most of the time in a RPG.  Also, as with every other attempt to categorize people, people don’t fit neatly into single categories a lot of the time.  I can become a tactician if the game is purely mechanical, for instance.

This is not the most tightly knit group to begin with.  Powergamers and buttkickers fit pretty well together to the point where even people who don’t bleed into the other type get confused for each other.  Buttkickers want power to be better at kicking butt and powergamers are good at kicking butt because they have power.  I’m definitely of a different ilk than the rest of the group, but I’m incredibly tolerant when it comes to gaming, possibly to a point where it’s unproductive.

But, what makes it even less cohesive is that I don’t believe the expectations of the players are anywhere close to each other.  In the fourth edition of the Champions RPG, on page S14, a section begins “Setting Up The Campaign”.  It has the sort of advice for creating the groundwork for a successful campaign that I think should be expressed in every RPG mainbook.  It basically lays out how to get on the same page.  I don’t recall having any campaign I played doing anything close to this sort of clarifying interests exercise.

What it doesn’t have is a section I know is in some RPG book I have, maybe an earlier Champions book, it’s annoying that I can’t remember, that talks about players assigning point values to different areas – intrigue, romance, combat, etc. – and the GM doing subtotals to figure out what the group’s primary desires are.  The book acknowledges that this isn’t going to always work.  Outlier interests get watered down, which can be a problem when a particular outlier player feels strongly about a particular campaign theme.

Anyway, not putting more thought into player interests and how to reconcile divergent player styles seems to me to be at the heart of why I don’t see more campaigns go smoothly.  One of my groups just changed campaigns because of divergent interests and expectations.  Another is at a point where it may reboot to solve what appears to be an ever widening gap between expectations.

If isolated to one individual, then cutting that individual out (unless it’s the GM) may be all that’s necessary.  But, it’s not one player here or there who is making the group dynamic less than optimal, and my gaming groups are more often groups of friends than they are about the games we play, so cutting someone out isn’t a desired option.  I think it comes down to unclear expectations and perception of other people’s interests.

As ever in social endeavors, communication is the key.